How we talk about vaccines

Photo Credit:   PAHO/WHO   via   Compfight     cc

Photo Credit: PAHO/WHO via Compfight cc

Let's get this out of the way. Both of my sons have received the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella vaccine. Not that I owe anyone that information, but I thought I would make it clear from the beginning considering the current fervor surround the measles outbreak.

My children have received all of their vaccinations but ... on an alternate schedule (except the flu shot). I do not believe that vaccines cause autism. However, I also do not believe that every child should be pushed through a system that treats every child (and their immune system) the same. I'm also not sure just because we can vaccinate that means we should vaccinate (I'm looking at you chicken pox).

I understand that our modern vaccination system has saved millions of lives. Overall, it is a medical marvel that does an incredibly good job at what it is supposed to do—prevent deaths from infectious disease. However, just because it is a good system doesn't mean it's a perfect system. It can and should be improved upon and not just by adding more vaccinations to an already crowded schedule.

For me, I approach vaccinations the same way I approach health care in general. In a nutshell, if we're talking about any kind of medical intervention, I'm going to start at "no" and you're going to have to convince me. If you want to perform a surgery on my child or inject my child or medicate my child, you better have a darn good reason. I'll listen to science and the opinion of my physician, but I'm also going to listen to my gut.

My gut said I did not want anything entering the body of my minutes-old infant except my own breast milk. So, I said no to Vitamin K drops, eye ointment, and the Hepatitis B vaccine. The reasons provided for interventions were just not good enough for me. That's not to say my children will never receive the Hepatitis B vaccine (Griffin already has), but I decided the risk of infection wasn't high enough for me to administer the vaccine at birth.

My gut also says I don't want my child receiving upwards of four to five shots at a time. First, because OUCH!. Would you want that many shots at one time?  Second, side effects are rare with vaccines but should my child have one how the heck would we figure out which vaccine was causing the problem? And third, our immune systems are tricky, tricky things and what I don't want to do is piss it off. (Scientific, I know.)

So, I've decided to follow Dr. Sears alternative schedule, which only allows for two shots per visit. As a result you come in once a month instead of once every two months, but I've decided it's worth it. I also think he does a great job of analyzing the risk of each infection with regards to the child's age and using that information to schedule the vaccines. Therefore, because whooping cough or rotavirus are particularly dangers for infants, those vaccines are given at the beginning, while chicken pox or Hep B are pushed to a later date.

Now, the mere mention of Dr. Sears would classify me for many as an anti-vaxxer worthy of scorn and there has been A LOT of scorn going around with regards to parents who chose not to vaccinate and the recent measles outbreak. 

Honestly, it makes me really uncomfortable.

First, I don't think it's productive. When was the last time someone called you an idiot and you thought, "You know what? They're right! I'm going to really examine where that person is coming from!"

Yeah, that's what I thought. Me either.

Alienating families who choose not to vaccinate their children by calling them names and insulting their intelligence accomplishes absolutely nothing. 

Second, I know a lot of these families. Families who make very different choices then I do and - let me tell you something - they love their children just as much as I love mine. Now, I understand this is not a Similac commercial. My decision to have a home birth or breastfeed or home school doesn't affect the safety of your child. However, my decision to vaccinate or not vaccinate can and does affect your child. 

That's why emotions are high. I'm about to have a newborn who will have no immunity to measles AND not be a candidate for vaccination - believe me, I GET IT. 

However, if the goal is to educate on the science of vaccines and change people's minds, then maybe we should also examine the science of PERSUASION - specifically how it relates to vaccines

Facts and evidence, for one, may not be the answer everyone thinks they are: they simply aren’t that effective, given how selectively they are processed and interpreted. Instead, why not focus on presenting issues in a way keeps broader notions out of it—messages that are not political, not ideological, not in any way a reflection of who you are?
— Maria Konnikova

So, let's stop insulting one another. As parents, our goal to keep our children safe and healthy but it is not our only goal. We also want to present examples of behavior that include empathy and compassion and understanding - behaviors worth emulating. 

There's a lot on the line but that doesn't mean we need to sacrifice our basic humanity.